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Opinion: Gifting Metal

Opinion: Gifting Metal

For Rolex its Oystersteel, their own version of 904L. Hublot has Hublonium, arguably the best named material in the industry. I like to picture a room of C-level executives in Geneva participating in a brainstorming session to name their special blend of magnesium and aluminum. Steve throws out “Hublonium” as a joke. Two hours later, there are no better ideas, and suddenly Steve seems like a genius. Feeling empowered, he suggests putting a rhinoceros on a Big Bang. Everyone trusts him after the success of Hublonium, so why not? 2 for 2 Steve. Congratulations. I can’t wait to see what you think of next.

While the mixtures and creative names vary, ultimately, it’s all metal. This metal houses movements, dials, and hands. This collection of items gets thrown on a strap or bracelet. Collectively, the whole ensemble weighs 100, maybe 150 grams. It’s a small piece of functionality wrapped in metal, and sometimes that’s ALL it is. And that’s OK. But sometimes, for some people, this 100–150-gram object becomes more than a time keeping device.

Growing up in Michigan, my grandparents lived on a small in-land lake a couple hours north of us. We made the drive frequently, enjoying hours-long daytime rides on grandpa’s pontoon boat, followed by hours-long games of cards at the lake house.

My grandpa always wore, and still does, a tiger’s eye ring. There isn’t a moment I remember noticing this ring for the first time. It was just always there. The silky, golden stone looked at home on his sun-tanned hands.  I never asked about it as a child, and he didn’t volunteer its backstory.  Despite the lack of verbal acknowledgement, I’ve always associated him with this object.

The author and his grandfather, wearing his tiger’s eye ring

I made it about a year in the world of watches before I started tinkering. I began with modifying SKXs, and progressed to sourcing individual components on eBay for new builds. I discovered that building a one-of-a-kind watch was surprisingly simple and incredibly liberating. A forced exercise in demystifying watches, purchasing the necessary components begins by looking at a watch as a sum of its parts. 

When beginning a new project. I always start with the case. It will determine the wearing experience and dictate the personality of the watch. It’s not going to be Hublonium, but there is no shortage of stainless-steel options ranging from DLC coated 47mm hockey pucks to elegant 38 mm polished beauties. This is the perfect time to consider factors such as lug width and case back options. If the watch will be a gift, 20mm lug width and a display case back are friendly options.

After a case is selected, it’s now a game of finding compatible components that look like they belong together. I like to select the movement next, but this can really be done in any order. A Seiko NH or Miyota 8000 series are fantastic budget options, and Selitta movements are also readily available. Finding the perfect dial is no more difficult than searching “NH35 (or other movement) dial”. Just make sure the dial diameter fits the case, find some hands to match, and Voilà! The final step is to turn that eBay cart into a watch. It’s just like Legos. YouTube is there to help.

Suddenly anything, and any watch, is possible. Always wanted a solid bronze diver with an orange dial, sword hands, and a dual time bezel, but tired of waiting for brands to release it? That weird (but probably awesome) watch is only a few eBay clicks and $200 away from being yours.

The problem with experiencing the freedom of building a watch is wanting to do it again. I made myself a dress watch with an elegant white dial and blue hands. I didn’t need another homemade watch, but still found myself browsing, looking for inspiration.

It came one night when I should have been working. It was the end of the semester, and I had papers to grade. But browsing watches when there are more important things to do is an essential part of this hobby, so I instead found myself on eBay where I spotted a simple brown dial. It was text free, had applied indices and a date window at 3:00. The sunburst brown immediately brought me back to summers in Michigan and my grandpa’s tiger eye ring. So, I started clicking items into my cart. 

Brown dial- click

40mm rose gold case with a display case back and a screw down crown- click

Mercedes handset to match the applied indices- click

Miyota 8215- click

A leather strap with rose gold hardware to bring it all together- click

My grandparent’s lake house is no longer a two-hour drive, but we try to make the habit of piling the kids in the car for the 16-hour trek from New Hampshire at least every other year. We drove there last summer to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. I gave him the watch at the party, sharing how the dial reminded me of his ring. This began an afternoon of stories and learning new things about my grandpa.

The tiger’s eye was originally from a pin, awarded to celebrate a career accomplishment. He asked a jeweler to repurpose the stone for the ring that was ingrained in my childhood memories. No one at the party knew the origin story of his ring. Then, he showed me his usual daily watch, an engraved quartz Seiko, also given after a career accomplishment. He kept that one on one his left wrist and put his Miyota powered brown watch on his right wrist. 

I’d never talked about watches with my grandpa before, but here we were, laughing and double wristing. It was a damn good time, made possible by a 100–150-gram chunk of metal with some pieces inside. 

Now, I’m in the habit of gifting metal. It sure beats a sweater, and won’t end up forgotten in the back of the closet. Without fail, with every personalized watch I gift, something unexpected follows. After making my active outdoorsman stepdad a field watch, he surprised me by giving me his father’s daily watch: an Accutron, engraved to commemorate 25 years with his employer. I’m currently searching for a trusted watchmaker to replace the crystal and get it running again so it can continue to be more than just a watch, connecting people and unlocking stories.

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